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Should We Really Be Giving Millions to Bolivia?

New members of Congressmen who are looking around for places to make spending cuts may have found a good place to start (after they defund NPR): the parts of the $50 million in international aid that we give to Bolivia -- per year -- through government training.

Yes, it is small potatoes, and might not make much of a dent in the $13 trillion U.S. national debt. But why are we giving money to a narco-dictatorship run by the former boss of a coca-leaf growers’ union, one with growing ties with all of our worst enemies -- with Iran, Cuba and Venezuela leading the list?

Especially after that former union leader, President Evo Morales, spent an hour berating our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at a regional defense conference on how Bolivia’s democracy is superior to America’s and how Bolivia has the right to team up with Iran on nuclear projects. Gates, speaking earlier, had warned about the wisdom of tying up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran.

"Bolivia under my government will have an agreement, an alliance, to anyone in the world," Morales answered Gates when it was his turn to speak, to the applause of many other anti-Americans present.

Gates probably should count himself lucky that Morales did not behave toward him as he did last week to a player on a soccer pitch last month. Suffice to say that Morales’ opponent doubled over in pain and fell to the ground after the el lider applied his knee to a part of the other man’s body. Just search YouTube for “Morales and soccer” to see the president’s thuggish behavior toward opponents.

Gates had actually made a point about Bolivia’s sovereignty when he spoke, saying: 

“As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to. I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran’s behavior."

Of course, why Gates didn’t just walk out of the conference is a good question in itself, especially when Morales started extolling the superiority of Bolivia’s much-diminished democracy. Why do our leaders submit themselves to public scoldings by foreign potentates?

Morales has set about systematically destroying Bolivia’s democracy since taking over amid chaos in 2006. At first he persecuted rivals, jailing some. Then he transformed the country’s institutions. According to Mary O’Grady of The Wall Street Journal, one of the best chroniclers of Morales’ abuses and of Latin America in general: “Any time there was an opposition challenge, his street thugs or his judges put a stop to it.”

We probably have better uses for the money we’re spending on Morales’ government.

Mr. Gonzalez, a former journalist, is vice president of communications at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Gundisalvus.

Mike Gonzalez is Vice President, Communications, at The Heritage Foundation. He is a former Bush administration official, Wall Street Journal editorial writer and foreign correspondent. He is writing a book on Hispanics due out in September.